Home > Documents > LAND/ART · LAND/ART New Mexico — 72 ESSAY Land Art: the Art of the Anthropocene William L. Fox...

LAND/ART · LAND/ART New Mexico — 72 ESSAY Land Art: the Art of the Anthropocene William L. Fox...

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  • RADIUS BOOKS, SANTA FE

    LAND/ARTNew Mexico

    IN COLLABORATION WITH

    516 ARTS

    THE ALBUQUERQUE MUSEUM OF ART AND HISTORY

    THE UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO COLLEGE OF FINE ARTS

  • Project by The Center for Land Use Interpretation in association with 516 ARTS | see index page 134

    above & right: CLUI NEW MEXICO MOBILE EXHIBIT UNIT, 2009 | by The Center for Land Use Interpretation | converted office trailer, 9 x 8 x 28 feet

    CLUI’s temporary display facility, located on the fringes of Albuquerque, contained the exhibit Extra Terrestrial: Aspects of the Sky/Ground Interface in

    New Mexico which featured information about the region and the New Mexico landscape.

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    In 1995 I gave a talk in Marfa called “Land Art in the Rearview Mirror,” in part because my own

    interests have gone on down the road since I was first entranced by Earth Art in the 1960s and

    ‘70s and in part “because the monumental land art that epitomizes the term takes much of its

    power from distance—distance from people, from places, and from issues.”1 From that

    distance the general is favored over the specific. Geography, especially cultural geography, is

    neglected in favor of an abstracted “site” and a “view.” I don’t believe that an artwork becomes

    “Land Art” just because it is placed outdoors or is made of wood, earth, leaves, flowers, or

    stone, (etc.); it needs to have a more direct connection to the land and/or to the landscape.

    I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that Land Art is for city people. It offers them/us an antidote

    to an urban landscape often crammed with art and visual competition. Public art belongs in cities

    and large towns, places where people interact with the built environment on a frequent, familiar,

    on-foot basis—places where public art can literally inform or enhance a neighborhood or public

    domain. Land Art, on the other hand, is conventionally isolated from everyday experience, and

    its impact is always dependent on its location. Its task is to focus landscapes that are often too

    vast for the unaccustomed eye to take in. At best it can be simultaneously a spectacle and a

    very intimate experience.

    I arrived at this conclusion when thinking about what kind of Land Art would make sense in my

    own semi-rural environment. I live between inhabited and mostly uninhabited areas—which

    makes this essay a kind of NIMBY rant: not in my backyard, not on my back forty. Given the fact

    that I have spent my life writing about art (sometimes Land Art), and ranting about the importance

    of public art, this sounds like a kind of betrayal. But it’s hard to imagine what kind of art would

    work here, at the edge of a tiny village in north central New Mexico, looking out across a highway

    to private ranchlands and distant mountains. When I was a citydweller, I might have welcomed

    the sight of some visual extravagance, or oddity, or subtle highlights to my daily surroundings.

    But the fact remains that even semi-rural New Mexico is hard to improve upon.

    1 Published in Art in the Landscape, Marfa: Chinati Foundation, 2000, 11–31; some of the talkwas also in my book The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society, New York: The New Press, 1997.

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    Land Art can be defined as creative interactions that humans commit directly in the landscape,

    and it is a diverse field of endeavor with roots in cartography, landscape painting, and geography.

    From monumental Earthworks to ephemeral traces made while walking, these actions are per-

    formed in response to our need to turn unfamiliar space into known place. We

    can contemplate Land Art from a variety of vantage points, but the intersection of artistic and

    geographical practices offers up a unique insight into this desire to deeply know a place. Many

    forms of Land Art are contemporary manifestations of Earth systems science, that field which

    observes, describes, and analyzes the interactions between land, atmosphere, water, ice, the

    biospheres, and societies, including the economies and technologies of the latter.

    The scope of Earth systems science is extremely large and of necessity addresses what Aristotle

    first described, and then Immanuel Kant affirmed in the 18th century, as a collision between the

    laws of nature and the ethics of man. The current debate around climate change is a handy

    example of how agonizing it can be to generate rules governing human actions which will

    profoundly shape our natural environment.

    A convenient place from which to start an examination of Land Art is with the profound effect

    upon landscape painting generated by the polymath scientist, explorer, and artist, Alexander von

    Humboldt (1769–1859), who was the most cited geoscientist of the 19th century. And a logical

    place to end might be with Paul Crutzen, the atmospheric chemist who won the Nobel Prize for

    chemistry in 1995 for his work on ozone depletion, and who was the most cited geoscientist

    of the 20th century.

    In 2000, Crutzen proposed that we’re no longer living in the Holocene, the term for the geological

    age of the last 10,000 years, but that we have now entered the Anthropocene, the “era of

    humankind.” He suggests that we can define the Anthropocene as having started in the 1790s,

    when the increased burning of fossil fuels began to lay down a measurable trace of carbon

    around the world, a stratum marking a profound disruption of life on Earth that underwent a

    “Great Acceleration” in the 1950s with the postwar rise in consumerism. It is no accident that

  • IMAGE 45 | Scroll, Amazon, Brazil explorations (detail), 2009,by Ana MacArthur

    The Santa Fe Art Institute presented an installationby Ana MacArthur, which featured a 15-foot scrolldocument—part an extensive project focusing onthe photosynthetic ingenuity of the Victoria amazonica, the world’s largest water lily from theAmazon Rainforest of Brazil. Part of the exhibition’stitle—Mumuru, the local Amazonian Indian namefor the royal water lily—is inspired by this organism.

    From MacArthur’s first encounter with the Victoria amazonica in the Amazon in 1993, her work withlight has entered a chapter of deep engagementwith photobiology and the equatorial zone of theAmazon Rainforest of Brazil. The entirety of the proj-ect explores this bio-region, as it is one of the rich-est troves of biodiversity and it plays a critical role inthe stabilization of global climate. Friendships withthe Caboclos and river guides of the Amazon be-came her conduit to understanding this divine speci-men, its habitat, and the underlying issuesthreatening the rainforest. After five attempts,MacArthur succeeded in making a complete moldof the five-foot-diameter organism. This “impres-sion,” from one of nature’s most prolific photosyn-thetic lifeforms, was included in the exhibition.

    Ana MacArthur is a light and environmental artistwhose installations have been exhibited internation-ally. For years her explorations have been driven by the urge to explore the sun’s electromagnetic energy we call “light”. She is devoted to under-standing the interrelationship between the physicsof light and a deeper ecological perspective.

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